Skip to content

March 16, 2015

1

SMSgt R. J. Hensel U.S. Air Force (Ret) (1966-2005)

by dianeshort2014

buckPersonal Service Reflections of USAF Airman:

SMSgt R. J. Hensel

U.S. Air Force (Ret)

(1966-2005)

Shadow Box: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/bio/R.Hensel

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?

Several of my uncles and cousins were in the Army and Navy during the Korean and seeing them in uniformed influenced my decision that someday I wanted to join the Army. My enjoyment of the TV shows “Combat” and “Sea Hunt” also helped steer me at that direction.

In 1954 my mother, sister and I attended a military funeral for 1Lt. Quinlan, a local Air Force pilot that was killed in a training mission. The twenty one gun salute, bugler playing taps and F-86 missing man flyover left a lasting impression and confirmed my decision that I will someday join the Air Force.

I graduated High School in 1964 and Cape May Vocational Technical Institute in 1966 and went to work for a plastic company as a design draftsman. I wanted to be a member of the military for a long time and decided to join the New Jersey Air National Guard in September 1966.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.

I joined the Air Guard’s 177th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG) in September 1966. I left for basic training at Lackland AFB in October and Technical School at Chanute AFB from November to March 1967 graduating as a hydraulic systems mechanic apprentice.

In January 1968, the Spy Ship Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans and the 177th was activated. In June of 1968 the unit?s aircraft mechanics were sent to Phu Cat AB South Vietnam for a one year tour. In 1980 I decided to cross train to APG (Air Plane General) and worked phase docks as APG / Hydraulics. I became a certified Crew Chief in 1986 crewing F-106s and later F-16 aircraft. In May and June 1968 we deployed five F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft and 46 personnel to Howard AFB, Panama in support of Operation Coronet Nighthawk, a U.S. led anti-narcotic smuggling air patrol operation. This photo of me with Roy Clark of the Hee Haw TV show was taken right after a sudden Panama rainstorm.

In 2000, I retired from my full time Technician employment and stayed in the Air Guard as a traditional guardsmen working in Maintenance Control (MOC). September 11, 2001 the World Trade Towers were attacked and I spent two years on active duty working Noble Eagle missions. I retired from N.J. Air National Guard in December 2005 at age 60 with 39 years 4 months and 1 day of military service.

DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?

The 177th TFG from Atlantic City and the 113th TFG from District of Columbia’s CAM Squadrons and pilots were sent to Phu Cat Vietnam in June 1968 for a one year tour. We replace regular Air Force personnel from the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Myrtle Beach AFB, S.C. who were sent 180 days TDY to Phu Cat shortly after the January 1968 Tet Offensive. The 355th was made up of a squadron of F-100Fs and flew most of the Misty missions in the theater. The most notable of the pilots assigned to the squadron that year was Capt. Merrill McPeak who later became Air Force Chief of Staff.

Bob Hope visited us on Christmas Day and we really appreciated the show he put on. Roosevelt Greer, Ann Margret and The Gold Diggers accompanied him and really put on a great performance.

I’ll always remember as soon as we arrived in country, they gave us a Gamma Globin (GG) injection in the butt check. It was the most painful injection I ever had. I will also remember the Malaria Pills that we were supposed to take that gave everyone the sh*#^s. Considering everything, it was not a bad duty assignment for a war zone. Many times Army and Marines would visit our club and comment how they wish they had joined the Air Force. After listening to other peoples stories, you learn to appreciate what you have taken for granted.

Photo is us guy waiting at a bus stop in Vietnam. Standing left to right are Harvey Hymer from Missouri, Paul Bridges from Massachusetts, John Carr from New Orleans, Dan Tozer from New Jersey, Gerald Morett from Iowa, myself, Ralph Barrett from Mechanicsville, Virginia with his hand on my shoulder. We were a very close group.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

I have truly enjoyed my time in the military.

It was a brotherhood for me. When we got out of Tech School and back to our unit, the older guys, many Korean Veterans, took the young ones under their wing and after work we would all meet at the All Ranks club. They watched over us and taught us the rules of drinking as an adult. Find that happy spot, maintain it without going beyond and becoming sick or foolish. They looked after us and made sure we stayed out of trouble. There final advice was, “do the same for those coming in when you get older”. Talk about having your brothers back!

There are so many funny stories I could tell about the good times on TDYs but the rule is, “What happens TDY, stays TDY”. Sorry folks, I can’t divulge those secrets even to this day.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?

I have truly enjoyed my time in the military.

It was a brotherhood for me. When we got out of Tech School and back to our unit, the older guys, many Korean Veterans, took the young ones under their wing and after work we would all meet at the All Ranks club. They watched over us and taught us the rules of drinking as an adult. Find that happy spot, maintain it without going beyond and becoming sick or foolish. They looked after us and made sure we stayed out of trouble. There final advice was, “do the same for those coming in when you get older”. Talk about having your brothers back!

There are so many funny stories I could tell about the good times on TDYs but the rule is, “What happens TDY, stays TDY”. Sorry folks, I can’t divulge those secrets even to this day.

IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

Outstanding Unit Award with “V”. 355th TFS.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

Air Force NCO Professional Military Education Graduate.

I joined the Air Guard in September 1966 and made Technical Sergeant just slightly over 6 years in November 1972. I didn’t make Master Sergeant until November 1998. After making T/Sgt., I took a CDC course 5 for NCO Academy and passed it figuring I filled that requirement eligible for promotion. That same year was when the 177th enacted the rule that you could only be promoted to Master Sergeant if you do the in residence NCO school. I became stubborn over the situation and refused to attend the in residence school with an “I’ll show them attitude”.

In 1998 while working for CMSgt Joe Fenton, he promised me that if I did the in Residence School, upon graduating, he would promote me to M/Sgt. Shortly after promotion Chief Fenton said, “do the SNCO course and pass, and I will find a way to promote you to Senior Master Sergeant” when your time in grade allows me to. All the medals, awards and ribbons on my chest were earned but I’m not really sure what I did to earn them. The NCO graduate ribbon has significant meaning to me and I know what I did not do, and did do, to earn it.

Note: That was just under 26 year’s TIG as a T/Sgt…OMG.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

M/Sgt. Leroy Howe.

Being a member of an Air National Guard unit has its good points and bad. People stay a lifetime in one unit or one section and everything bottlenecks at the top. The hydraulic shop supervisor was 5′-2″ tall and had a chip on his shoulder for anyone taller than him. Think about that, just about the whole world is taller than him! After 14 years under his arrogant rule, I crossed trained to APG and worked for M/Sgt. Leroy Howe. I never realized that a person could be so kind to his men and get so much work and respect from them by just being a nice person.

He always led by example or by self-motivation to get his men up and going after a break. He would always say, “OK gentleman, let’s go to work,” and he would be the first one out the door and back on the hangar floor. Naturally everyone followed and their attitudes were, if he is out there working, we better be out there working. All of a sudden the job became enjoyable again and I looked forward to going to work every day. Following his example made me a better person and supervisor of my men.

In 2008 when we vacationed in Florida, I looked him up and we had a nice visit. I thanked him for being the best supervisor I ever had and the renewed positive outlook I had in my job. He was totally blown away. No one ever expressed such sentiments to him in his 23 years of service nor did he ever expect to hear such a compliment. He never realized how much of an impact he had on me or my career, and for that I’m happy to have shared my feelings with him.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

All during my active time in the service I roomed with a bunk mate. When we arrived in Vietnam my bunk mate, Dan Tozer, was another hydraulic man from Atlantic City Air Guard. We set up our room and we had our bunks made with the pillows to the exterior wall for the cool night breeze. Our first attack on base happened two nights later at about three in the morning. As Dan leaped from his bunk, I’m sitting on the edge of mine slipping my boots on. Dan lands with his legs wrapped around my neck and we both landed in a heap on the floor. Scared of what was happening in the attack, total darkness and can’t turn on the lights and both woozy from the surprise impact, we were the last into the bunker. Everyone was wondering where we got to but we were too embarrassed to tell them what really happened. When we got back into our room Dan immediately remade his bunk so his head was opposite mine like it should have been in the first place. Our butts being the pivot point when getting out of bed, the next time we were attacked, we were standing alongside each other instead of on top of each other. Lesson learned the hard way, right Dan?

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

I retired from the Technician Program with the 177th FW in 2000 at age 55. I stayed in as a guardsman since I figured I needed a part time job and this was a great one. September 11th happened and the unit was activated for two years flying Noble Eagle missions over New York City, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. I continued as a guardsman after being released from active duty in December 2003 picking up extra man days. I retired completely from the guard in 2005 at age 60.

I currently work part time for Rossi Honda in Vineland N.J. three days a week. I’m enjoying the relaxed pace of retirement, being with family and traveling with Donna. Life is good!

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1992 when our District 16 commander was establishing a new post in the area. I received a phone call from a good friend saying they needed just one more person to reach the magic number of thirty and they could start the post. After talking to several people and they were told the same story made me realize that I was being had. I figured since I belonged, I might as well be active with the post. I’ve been adjutant, quartermaster and commander at the post level over my 18 years with the VFW. The purpose of the VFW is to perpetuate the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and help the widows and children of the fallen. We are an active post and I enjoy the company of the men and women who belong to ours. I joined as a life member in 1998.

The 177th Reunion Association which is an association of active and former members of the 177th Fighter Wing. They keep us in touch with other members thru a quarterly Newsletter, annual picnic and annual reunion held in Myrtle Beach S.C. Myrtle Beach has significant memories for many because it was our last duty station before being sent to Vietnam in June 1968. I joined as a life member in 1986.

Air Force Association

When I retired I could continue my NAGUS life insurance policy but it was very expensive. I looked around and AFA was offering one comparable to NAGUS but very reasonable. They required a membership in order to purchase the insurance so I had to join. AFA has a very good monthly Air Force magazine that keeps members up to date on current events in the Air Force. I joined as a life member in 2007.

Patriot Guard Riders

An organization made up of patriot citizens, mostly motorcycle owners, who ride as a group in support of our military. Their purpose is to show sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities. They will shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by protesters or group of protesters. The membership is mostly veterans but not required to be a veteran to join.

Air Force Sergeants Association

I joined mostly because they campaign and lobby for benefits and rights for the enlisted soldier. I am not active with the organization nor assigned to a chapter and considered “member at large”.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

I know as a young man the military made me a mature, responsible individual. It taught me to work as a team member but also to be responsible for myself and my actions. The day I joined I realized I was entering the adult world as a young man and it was now time to act like one. This is all very important when working on a multimillion dollar aircraft, but it also reflects into your everyday life. Many of my friends made the decision to marry in order to avoid the draft and Vietnam. All those marriages ended in divorce and some with children involve.

Donna and I have been married for 42 years and we try to instill those values and lessons learned in our early years to our children and now grandchildren. I know for me the Air Force was the best choice I could ever have made for a career. My best choice in life is my beautiful wife Donna who has supported me through many TDYs and deployments, raising our girls and making the home operate smoothly while I was gone. I was always asked by my nonmilitary friends, “How can you stand being away from home so much”? My answer was always, “I’m with my friends doing a job that I love. Donna is the one who has the empty house to come home to and all the responsibilities while I’m gone. She is the one who suffers the most from me being away, not me”.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE AIR FORCE?

My advice to those who are serving today is to make the most of the time and opportunities that are available to you. Everyone who joins is somewhere between 17 and 23 years of age. A young man but far from the man that you will eventually become. Listen to those who have been in and have some experience. Use good sound judgment in your decisions. Be open minded to change and flexible to your environment. Most of all enjoy your time there because it is an experience that you will reflect back upon many times during your lifetime. You are writing your own history.

In this photo I’m taking advantage of an experience I always wanted: a ride in an F-106 Backseat. By the time we landed I was the color of his field jacket.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

It has been a very rewarding experience to be a member of TWS. I’ve made many new friends and hopefully will reconnect with some friends from my Basic Training days at Lackland, Technical School days a Chanute and tour at Phu Cat RVN. Donna and I have attended several minireunions to meet face to face with people I met on the computer. It never ceases to amaze her that she has enjoyed her encounters with everyone we have met from here. The reunion at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio had the atmosphere of a family reunion. People who never saw each other face to face were greeted with handshakes, hugs and back slaps as if they were long lost brothers and sisters. When 3 days had past and it was over, it was hard saying our goodbyes, promising everyone we will meet again in San Antonio for the next reunion. We saw genuine tears flow from some sisters and the realization that even though there is no blood line, “this is family”. I joined for life in November 2008.

Thank you to the person who developed TWS.

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Mar 16 2015

    I recently joined the Air Force because I grew up next to PAFB in Florida, and the AF reminds me of home. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments

%d bloggers like this: